I. Why is COVID-19 testing important?

As the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its tenth month, and cases continue to rise, the need for widespread diagnostic testing is critical to controlling the outbreak.

Diagnostic tests, also known as viral tests, identify individuals who are currently infected with COVID-19. The other type of testing currently available, antibody testing, identifies people who previously had COVID-19.

Confirming that sick individuals are infected with COVID-19 is not only important in helping people get the correct treatment, it is essential to slowing the spread of this highly contagious disease. Individuals with confirmed COVID-19 cases should self-isolate so they do not infect others. Once an individual gets a positive diagnosis, contact tracers can notify people who had contact with the infected individual, so they can get tested and self-isolate if necessary.

Additionally, more testing means epidemiologists and public health experts have a better understanding of the disease’s spread, how many people have been infected, and how the disease affects people who get it.

II. What is drive-through COVID-19 testing?

Established in the early days of the pandemic, drive-through coronavirus testing follows the same principles as other drive-through services.

At a drive-through testing site, healthcare workers collect a sample via nasal swab without the patient leaving their car. Samples are typically sent to labs for testing, and patients are notified of their results within a few days to a week.

III. What are the benefits of drive-through COVID-19 testing?

The primary benefits of drive-through coronavirus testing are safety, efficiency, and convenience.

Getting tested at a drive-through site decreases the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for both patients and healthcare workers, since patients do not need to go inside, or wait near other potentially infected people. Data has shown that the risk of transmission is higher in indoor spaces. Drive-through testing allows people to stay outdoors and isolated in their vehicles, thereby limiting the spread of the disease.

Drive-through testing sites typically run like assembly lines, with nurses or medical assistants collecting patients’ information, then sending them to the next point to have their sample collected. Most sites require appointments to control the flow of traffic, so that patients can be in and out in as little as 10 minutes.

According to public health experts, widespread testing is a critical component of getting the disease under control. Drive-through testing makes it easy for some people to get tested because it is more convenient than going to a doctor’s office, hospital, or clinic.

IV. Where is drive-through COVID-19 testing available?

Coronavirus testing is organized at the state, county, or local level, so the availability of drive-through testing depends on where you live. Testing capacity at individual sites may vary based on appointment availability and the supply of testing materials. Most sites require an appointment and/or a doctor’s referral.

See our COVID-19 State Testing Directory

V. What happens at a drive-through test site?

Most drive-through testing sites require an appointment, which you can make by contacting the testing site directly, or by getting a referral from a physician. Before going to a drive-through testing site, confirm what their procedures are. Your doctor or the testing site may also ask you to refrain from eating or taking fever-reducing medications before your test. Limit the number of people in your vehicle, and bring a pen, ID, and health insurance information.

Once you arrive at the testing site, follow the road signs to the appropriate lane. A healthcare worker may ask you to complete intake paperwork. Keep your windows closed and stay inside your vehicle unless you are instructed to do otherwise. Even if appointments are required, you may have to wait, especially in areas that are experiencing an increase in cases.

The test itself is brief. A healthcare worker will insert a long, sterile nasal swab into your nostril to collect a sample of saliva and mucus. The healthcare worker will then put the swab in a sterile, labeled container to be sent to a lab for testing.

The healthcare worker should let you know when and how you will receive your test results, and give you instructions for what to do in the interim.

VI. How can I get tested for COVID-19?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals in any of the following groups who display COVID-19 symptoms are the highest priority for testing:

  • Hospitalized patients
  • Healthcare facility workers with COVID-19 symptoms
  • Patients in long-term care facilities
  • People 65 and older
  • People with underlying conditions
  • First responders
  • Critical infrastructure workers
  • Individuals who do not meet the above criteria

Healthcare workers, first responders, and individuals with mild symptoms in communities experiencing a high volume of hospitalizations should also be tested.

Steps for getting tested for COVID-19

To get tested for COVID-19, follow the steps below:

Step 1: Use the CDC’s guidelines for symptoms and self-evaluation.

Step 2: Call your primary care physician, or your state or local health department to get more information about arranging an in-person test, or obtaining an at-home test kit.

Step 3: Your doctor or the public health worker you speak to will ask you a series of questions to determine whether you should be tested for COVID-19. Based on their assessment, they will either recommend you for testing, and provide further instructions about where to go to get tested, or determine that you don’t need testing, and give you guidance for treating symptoms at home.

VII. Additional Resources

Name Website Summary
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html The CDC is the United States’ leading national public health organization. Its mission is to protect public health and safety through the control and prevention of disease, injury, and disability in the U.S. and abroad.
World Health Organization (WHO) https://www.who.int/ A specialized agency of the United Nations, WHO is responsible for international public health. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, it has field offices worldwide.
Association of Public Health Laboratories (APHL) www.aphl.org The APHL is a nonprofit organization in the United States that represents laboratories that protect public health and safety.
State Departments of Health https://www.fsis.usda.gov/wps/wcm/connect/fsis-content/internet/main/topics/recalls-and-public-health-alerts/additional-recall-links/state-departments-of-public-health/ct_index Each state in the U.S. has its own department of health. These public health departments are currently coordinating efforts for COVID-19 testing and treatment.

VIII. Sources